So, as I head home to take stock, in summary… It’s been 18 days of cycling (so far) ranging from a mere 7 km from the port in Belfast to the hotel in the centre to about 180 km for that rain-drenched cycle from Edinburgh to Prestwick on the west coast of Scotland. Around 1,500 km in total. There have also been 4 ‘rest’ days (of which one involved a lot of cycling around the Lake District). I have spent 21 nights away; 12 on campsites (C), 6 in hotels (H), 2 with friends (F) and 1 in a B&B (B).
- Cycling Day 1: Home (West Yorkshire) to Bolton Abbey (C)
- Cycling Day 2: Bolton Abbey to Hawes (C)
- Cycling Day 3: Hawes to Ambleside (C)
- Cycling Day 4: Ambleside to Ambleside (via Langdale Valley) (C)
- Rest Day 1: Ambleside (C)
- Cycling Day 5: Ambleside to Penrith (C)
- Cycling Day 6: Penrith to Haltwhistle (C)
- Rest Day 2: Haltwhistle / Hadrian’s Wall (C)
- Cycling Day 7: Haltwhistle to Bedrule (C)
- Cycling Day 8: Bedrule to Berwick-upon-Tweed (C)
- Cycling Day 9: Berwick-upon-Tweed to Dunbar (F)
- Cycling Day 10: Dunbar to Edinburgh (H)
- Rest Day 3: Edinburgh (H)
- Cycling Day 11: Edinburgh to Prestwick (H)
- Cycling Day 12: Prestwick to Culzean Castle (C)
- Cycling Day 13: Culzean Castle to Dunragit (F)
- Cycling Day 14: Dunragit to Belfast (via the Cairnryan ferry) (H)
- Rest Day 4: Belfast (H)
- Cycling Day 15: Belfast to the Ballypatrick Forest (C)
- Cycling Day 16: The Ballypatrick Forest to Portrush (B)
- Cycling Day 17: Portrush to Belfast (H)
- Cycling Day 18: Belfast to Home (via the Liverpool ferry)
The weather has been a recurrently frustrating aspect of the trip. I had been watching the longer-range (14-day) weather forecast carefully since the start of July with a view to picking the best moment to pounce and set off. Having been furloughed from my three jobs, I did at least have the luxury of being able to be patient. Towards the end of the second week in July, it looked as though a window of dry weather was opening up. And it lasted for a few days but then degenerated as I headed further north. Very mixed; some days OK, some days very wet and just one beautiful summer’s day; rest day 2 spent wandering around Hadrian’s Wall. Perhaps Scotland and Northern Ireland were always expected to be wet and windy in the second half of July. I was looking closer to home when consulting the forecast. A few days ago, as I was battling against the elements along the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, to be told that elsewhere in the UK (and more widely across the continent), record-breaking temperatures were being experienced only added to the frustration.
But by no means did the weather negate what has otherwise been a good cycling trip around much of the north of the UK; the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, the North Pennines AONB, the Scottish Borders, the east coast of Scotland; the canals linking Edinburgh and Glasgow, Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway and finally, Belfast and the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. Quite a list.
In the COVID-19 world of 2020, I set off without any certainty of continuing post-Edinburgh. I had taken the precaution of booking campsites for the first nine days of the trip and then extended the run by staying for a tenth night on the campsite in Berwick-upon-Tweed. In Dunbar, cycling acquaintance Suzanne Forup invited me to stay in her house and then in Edinburgh – as I normally do in big cities – I booked into a hotel for two nights. The reality of the COVID situation as far as it affects camping only reared its ugly head post Edinburgh with many campsites refusing to take tents (as such ‘proper’ campers don’t also bring with them their own toilet…). That said, campsites in certain parts of Scotland the in Northern Ireland more generally are not as common as in places like the Dales and the Lakes.
- Chatting in the pub in Hawes with Rob Ainsley, a conversation you’ll be able to hear in the next episode of The Cycling Europe Podcast
- Three nights at Rydal Hall campsite including an excellent cycling guided tour of the local area with Tim
- Breakfast in delightful Grasmere and the cycle beside Thirlmere
- The surprise visit by Jeff Trueman to the campsite near Penrith
- The view from my tent at Winshields Campsite overlooking Hadrian’s Wall
- Cycling on a deserted road over the alpinesque hills of the Scottish Borders
- Kelso; a Loire Valley town in southern Scotland
- Filming the birds at St. Abb’s Head on the east coast of Scotland
- Gin, wine & calvados with the Forup family in Dunbar
- The views towards Edinburgh from the coast west of North Berwick
- The ‘police escort’ through the southern suburbs of Glasgow
- The remote cycle over the hills of Dumfries & Galloway
- Being saved from a potential return home (big mobile phone issues) by Craig, his wife and his in-laws
- The walking tour of Belfast
- The landscape of the Antrim coast
- Portrush, the Biarritz of Northern Europe?
- Cycling back into Belfast along the Crumlin Road
Disappointments (aside from the weather)?
- Kielder Water, its fake forest and dreary Kielder village
- Falkirk and its attractions (although my opinion was somewhat skewed by the dreadful weather)
- Troon, Ayr and the nearby coastline, all in desperate need of significant investment…
- …as are almost all the roads in Ayrshire. Truly dreadful!
- The rain damaging my iPhone beyond repair during the epic 180km ride from Edinburgh
- The tourist trap that is the Giant’s Causeway
- The male drivers of Northern Ireland who need to shun the need for speed
- The 3rd class system for transporting bicycles on the ferry from Belfast to Liverpool and, in anticipation of what I will experience later today (I am writing this on the ferry)…
- …the frustrations I am about to experience taking my bicycle on a Trans-Pennine train from Liverpool to Huddersfield.
So with the good far outweighing the bad, that’s a successful trip in my book.
The question now remains as to whether I can make it a four-country tour of the UK by doing some cycling in Wales later in the month or early September (the schools don’t go back until the 7th, if the pubs shut of course…). The Lon Las Cymru has been on the list for a long time. A return to Liverpool on the train? Cycle along the north coast and then head south from the north-west of Wales? And then , who knows? A cycle through southern England to London to tick off all four British capital cities? Watch this space!